One of my favorite parts of coaching is working with clients on their Life Purpose. I’m not generally a prodigal capitalizer, but somehow it seems as though working to help focus on and define the purpose of one’s life is big stuff. Every now and then, it deserves the focus of Capital Letters.
Some people take a while to come to a sense of what they want to be about in life. It feels important, and they want to get their life purpose statement right. Sometimes it takes some stumbling around and massaging of words for them to feel like they have something they can really remember and put to good use. I believe pretty strongly that such statements need to be short and packed with solid nouns and a good action verb, not too many adjectives or adverbs. What’s important is that the person know what it means to them and how it informs their living, not whether it makes sense to anyone else. It may take a session or two, but we generally come to something the client can be going on with and live into.
Other people come to their purpose so quickly and definitely that it seems more like their purpose has found them than that they have sought and found their purpose. My friend Thomas Skinner is one such person.
Tom Skinner was in the US Army for 8 years in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Since then, he has been a truck driver logging a million miles on US highways, a tour guide in Alaska, a line dance instructor, a portrait and wildlife photographer, and about 45 other jobs. He is a father, a son, a brother, an ex-husband, and a friend. He is also someone who lives every single day of his life with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Although he now recognizes there were symptoms of PTSD in his life from the time he separated from the service, he did not have a severe manifestation of it until just over a year ago, after he’d been out of the Army for 20 years. Since then, it has been his constant companion.
It has also defined and fueled his life purpose.
Very simply, he now holds that the primary purpose of his life is to raise awareness about PTSD.
That purpose has brought him to places and helped him to accomplish things that had always been outside his comfort zone. Last June, when he would have preferred to stay isolated and safe in his room, at the suggestion of his pastor, he got in his Jeep and drove from San Diego to Tampa to tell his story to any of the 3500 or so people who were at the 28thGeneral Synod of the United Church of Christ. I was one of those people.
When it would have been easier to stay at home and not have to deal with the outside world, he and his service dog, Scrubs, began to get out and about and share his story. One night, when he couldn’t sleep, he began to journal about what else he needed to do to live out his purpose to raise awareness and, in so doing, continue his own healing. Suddenly, though he hadn’t ridden a bicycle in years and didn’t currently own one or have any real means of acquiring one, he knew that what he had to do was ride a bicycle, towing Scrubs behind him in a trailer, from San Diego to the National Center for PTSD in Vermont. That is a purpose that has kept him engaged ever since.
From an idea in the middle of the night to a planned cross-country trip with speaking engagements at churches, VFWs, and VA centers along the way – that’s the kind of thing that comes into being when we live on purpose.
I’m inspired by Tom’s story and his quest. I’m helping him where I can. I ask you to check out his website, UnderstandingPTSD.org and his blog there. Maybe become a friend of “Scrubs Ptsd-dog” on Facebook or follow Tom on Twitter (@AlaskaHome2010). If he inspires you anywhere near as much as he does me, make a contribution to support his mission. He still needs a bike to replace the borrowed one he’s been training on, equipment, food, and all kinds of financial support for the journey, the mission, and the purpose. His church, the United Church of Christ La Mesa (California), has adopted his work as a part of their mission focus, and all contributions to Tom’s mission made through “Welcome Home Ministries” at the church are tax-deductible.
Purpose inspires. Tom Skinner has found his purpose. What’s yours? Tell your story in the comments.